Orwellian Projection: Right-Wing Authoritarians Accuse The Left Of Authoritarianism
Dr. Miranda Christou is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in Sociology of Education at the University of Cyprus.
Make Orwell Fiction Again (MOFA) may traffic in the imagery of MAGA but it is nowhere as popular as the 2016 slogan that is currently recycled for the 2020 USA elections. And that’s exactly the point: those who wear such merchandise consider their choice as snarky, insider commentary, understood only by those sophisticated enough to have read Orwell’s “1984” and recognize present-day signals in his fictional fascism.
George Orwell, however, a staple of undergraduate Literature and Political Science courses, is no less an exclusively leftist intellectual property than a name thrown around left and right in such a confusing way that it makes you do double take; much like when facing a MOFA hat. The Radical Right has essentially flipped Orwell’s warning of a dystopian reality to use it as an alarmist cry for elimination conspiracies that threaten white and patriarchal supremacy.
The most recent examples of Orwellian appropriation come from COVID-19 anti-lockdown protests where demonstrators flaunted their disregard for safety measures by explaining them as the emergence of fascism: Covid-19 or Covid-1984? read one sign. Inevitably, Covid-1984 bumper stickers and T-shirts appeared to complete the image of an insider joke. In other cases, dystopian references were achieved with the donning of The Handmaid’s Tale costumes in anti-lockdown protests where it was obvious that the irony was totally missed in the pro-life protesters who professed that liberty is more important than life.
In a manner that sadly exhibits Orwell’s “doublethink,” these protesters also brought their MAGA signs even though it is the MAGA government that officially launched the concept of “alternative facts”—a concept that Orwell believed to be the trademark of authoritarianism. And when white supremacists clash with Antifa, the latter has been called “Orwellian” both in the aftermath of Charlottesville and the current BLM protests.
As early in the pandemic as in April 2020 the Centre for Research on Globalization, a research and media group that promotes anti-vaxx, climate denial, 9/11-truther perspectives published the article “Orwellian Lockstep and a Loaded Syringe” which interpreted lockdowns through Orwell’s authoritarian warning of mass surveillance and control. This is an “alternative” use of Orwell compared to the caution expressed by most human rights activists around the world who warned of the pandemic being used as an excuse to curtail already endangered human rights. This type of Orwellian dystopia stems from anti-establishment sentiments, which are often mixed with extremist and white supremacist elements—exactly the opposite of what Orwell intentioned to endorse.
Orwell also comes to the rescue whenever the Black Lives Matter movement or the 1619 Project flare up white racial anxieties. Complaining about the decline of facts “once assumed true by everyone,” an article on Mercatornet wondered aloud: “Is it racist to say 2+2=4?” The author laments self-censorship of those who simply want to state obvious facts, for example, that “all lives matter.” The bottom line of the article is that we are experiencing a brainwashing similar to that of Oceania citizens in “1984” who were forced to admit that 2+2=5.
Warnings of a dystopian regime are also frequent in the Radical Right’s critique of “gender ideology,” especially in relation to LGBTQ+ rights. In “The Attack on the Family and the European Response,” Roberto Fiore attempts to establish the sacredness of the “natural” (heterosexual) family through a litany of evils that plague Western civilization. On the idea of gender as anything other than binary or the concept of two men or two women having a child he writes:
“These proposals—which never existed at any time in human history until just a few decades ago—new seem to herald a ‘new world,’ a dystopia which, besides being bad science fiction, has another flaw: it cannot exist, except using artificial fertilization, and thus inhuman and Orwellian style brainwashing.” (p. 7)
The book references Newspeak and Huxley and devotes a whole chapter on the Demographic Winter facing European (white) societies. These fears of the Great Replacement are both racialized and gendered and regularly invoke Orwell as a sign of impending doom. In “The war on male sexuality,” hosted on the now defunct Return of Kings website, the author supports his argument that “Male Privilege” and “White Privilege” are “concocted terms” and “concocted crimes” with a mock Breaking News TV screen that reads: “Ministry of Truth Coming Soon!” “Also, Ignorance is Strength and War is Peace!” The owner of the Return of Kings (classified under Male Supremacy by the SPLC), is Roosh V, an ex pickup artist (PUA) whose favorite book is “1984” and George Orwell is his hero.
Far from being a misreading of a classic text, Orwell’s abduction by the Radical Right is part of their long-standing search for intellectual validation which dates back to the French New Right. Alain de Benoist, the founder of GRECE, envisioned a “Gramscianism of the right” by which he meant a form of cultural hegemony that would be a counterweight to the Left’s intellectual monopoly.
The German New Right has also played a role in providing the mantle of Heideggerian philosophy to the populism of AfD in a way that legitimizes their idea of nationhood: by grounding nationhood on “history” rather than “race.” The MOFA sign is probably oblivious to the fact that it does not hold the monopoly on Orwellian puns. Dystopia is a victim of doublethink—which sadly proves Orwell’s point.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.